Attorneys for a suspect in the 1995 disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair say they hope a new search of a Central Texas ranch will show federal prosecutors that it is not the final resting place of the American atheist grande dame and children.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks approved a motion Monday allowing investigators for Gary P. Karr's defense to search part of the 5,000-acre Cooksey Ranch in Real County, about 125 miles west of San Antonio.
The defense has long contended that the three may not be dead.
In the motion, Dallas attorney Tom Mills said that federal prosecutors plan on introducing testimony about prior searches of the ranch and that a defense search would aid the defense's preparation for cross-examining those witnesses.
"To be unable to examine the property would prevent the defendant from exercising his constitutional right to cross-examination of the agents who are going to be testifying about certain appearances of the property," Mr. Mills said.
He said his investigators hope to make the search this week. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Carruth did not oppose the search.
In 1999, FBI agents spent three days over the Easter weekend in a fruitless search for the bodies of Ms. O'Hair; her son, Jon Garth Murray; and her daughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, who vanished from their Austin home in August 1995.
Although prosecutors allege that Ms. O'Hair and her children were killed for money, the FBI has not found their bodies.
Mr. Karr is to stand trial May 15 on federal charges that he participated in a scheme to kidnap and murder the O'Hair family members for $500,000 in gold coins obtained with funds from an atheist organization they operated.
Almost from the beginning, the federal investigation into the disappearance of Ms. O'Hair and her children swirled around two ex-cons: David Waters, 52, a former employee of Ms. O'Hair's; and Mr. Karr, who met Mr. Waters while an inmate in the Illinois prison system.
Mr. Waters and Mr. Karr were arrested in March 1999 on federal weapons charges during separate FBI searches. Mr. Waters is serving a 60-year sentence on revocation of his 1994 probation for the theft of $54,000 from Ms. O'Hair's American Atheist organization.
In statements given to the FBI at the time of his arrest, Mr. Karr said that Mr. Waters offered him $7,000 to help guard the O'Hairs as the O'Hairs put a plan into effect to escape mounting financial difficulties, Mr. Mills said.
"He has steadfastly denied murdering anyone," Mr. Mills said. Mr. Mills said his investigators also plan to search land near Luckenbach, about 100 miles northwest of the Real County ranch. The FBI could not be reached for comment Monday. It is not believed that its agents have searched anywhere near Luckenbach.
Mr. Mills declined to say what he hoped to find near Luckenbach, a 19th-century Indian trading post in Kerr County later turned into a laid-back country music hangout in the 1970s by the late Hill Country humorist Hondo Crouch.
"Legal rules prohibit me from any detailed explanation as to why searches of the properties are to be conducted," Mr. Mills said. "Maybe we should rephrase the Luckenbach city motto: 'No Body is Nobody in Luckenbach.' "
Mr. Mills acknowledged he was taking poetic license with the motto popularized by Mr. Crouch: Everybody is somebody in Luckenbach.